The Hong Kong government has criticised student and labour union plans to hold referendums on whether to go on strike over the impending national security laws, saying such actions carry no legal weight.

A student group and a coalition of nearly two dozen unions across 20 industries on Saturday announced they will invite thousands of members to cast their ballots on June 14. If a minimum of 60 per cent of voters give the green light, participants will be asked to take leave over three days in the first phase of industrial action.

Hong Kong students
Students in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

Union representatives have said the strike aims to amplify the voice and “collective dissent” of workers against the controversial laws, which critics say threaten to stifle the city’s cherished freedoms.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament last month approved plans to impose laws that would punish subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism in Hong Kong, following months of pro-democracy unrest in the semi-autonomous territory. The law will likely be inserted into the city’s mini-constitution without local legislative oversight.

‘Meaningless activities’

Though publicly-organised polling is legal, a government spokesperson on Sunday rejected the referendum as having no constitutional basis under the Basic Law. They said it was “obviously taking advantage of students for political purposes.”

“All of society should dissociate themselves from any organisation, which has repeatedly through different means used school as a venue for expressing political demands and even intentionally misleading or inciting students, especially primary and secondary school students, to take part in such meaningless activities and holding so-called strikes or class boycotts as a referendum,” they said.

September 6 school strike protest extradition
Photo: Kevin Cheng/United Social Press.

“We call on parents and teachers to better protect our next generation, to urge the young children and students not to participate in such activities and work together in preventing politics and fallacies from invading schools.”

Last month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam cited public signature campaigns in favour of the national security law when justifying the new legislation.

In February, thousands of medical workers joined a new union and went on strike to pressure authorities to enact a full border closure with mainland China and provide adequate tools to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Last year, activists sought to enforce a strike by hindering the transport system in protest of the ill-fated extradition law.

jennifer creery

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.